This week entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out new music from the John Butler Trio, Beth Hart, Rick Ross and Chris Coleman — one of whom may be operating under an assumed name…

New Album by an Old Artist

John Butler Trio: Flesh & Blood

I’ve been a fan of American-born, Australian-raised John Butler and his musical sidekicks since the 2001 album Three, which contained the hit single Betterman. Back then he was a dreadlocked hippie prone to singing about environmental issues and staging protests for the issue du jour.

After Three came the mega-selling Sunrise Over Sea and the Zebra EP, followed in 2007 by the album Grand National.

Over the years, Trio members came and went, with the band’s musical and political direction firmly dictated by Butler.

In 2009, a new look John Butler Trio (including brother-in-law Nicky Bomba on drums) released April Uprising, a moderate success off the back of the single Close To You. The dreads were gone, and the political focus was diluted by songs about relationships and life in the public eye.

It wasn’t bad per se, but something indefinable seemed to be missing.

It has taken five years for JBT to record the follow up to April Uprising, the recently released Flesh & Blood. As an album it is far more coherent than it’s predecessor, with a sly funk running like an undercurrent through most tracks.

A truly independent artist, John Butler has always gone his own way. He set up label Jarrah Records so he wouldn’t have suits telling him what kind of music to make, and band members seem to come and go at his whim (most recent departure is Nicky Bomba).

Flesh & Blood doesn’t really deliver anything new, but has a couple of good tracks and should make longtime JBT fans happy. And really, what more could you ask for?

Best tracks: Livin’ In The City, Bullet Girl, Wings Are Wide

Sample lyric: ‘Working everyday for the goddamn man, sometimes I wonder just who I am.’ (Livin’ In The City)

Verdict: 7/10 — grows on you after a few listens 

New Album by a Touring Artist

Beth Hart: Bang Bang Boom Boom

The first thing you notice about Beth Hart is her voice.

From soft and sweet to raucous and confronting, it would be fair to say that this lady has range.

Influenced at a young age by Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, Hart started down the road to classical music before an Opera singing coach recommended she follow a different path. After discovering the music of Robert Plant and Chris Cornell, Hart found her voice and started pursuing life as a professional singer.

After winning a TV talent show that she entered on a bet, Beth signed with Atlantic Records and released debut album Immortal in 1996. The album was a moderate success, but Beth started to party like a rock star, burning through the $100k TV prize money in less than six months. She also developed an addiction to Klonopin, a benzodiazepine-based medication used to treat epilepsy and panic attacks.

It was in 1999 that Beth really broke big, caused in part by the inclusion of her track L.A. Song on the teen drama Beverly Hills 90210.

The album Screamin’ For My Supper sold well, but her addiction and undiagnosed bipolar disorder sent Beth lift into a tailspin. After losing her contract with Atlantic, Beth went to Vegas, kicked Klonopin and got married to her road manager Scott Guetzkow.

Fourteen years later, Beth’s still going strong.

New Album Bang Bang Boom Boom is a charming mix of rock, blues and jazz (not the kind that sucks), led by corker of a single Better Man and the smoking title track.

Touring Australia in April for Bluesfest, Beth Hart is an artist that any self-respecting music fan should have in their collection.

Best tracks: Better Man, The Ugliest House on the Block, Caught Out In the Rain

Sample lyric: ‘I can’t help but love the taste of danger, baby.’ (Caught Out In the Rain)

Verdict: 8/10 — Beth Hart could teach warblers like Celine Dion something about vocal control. 

Album I Expect to Suck

Rick Ross: Mastermind Deluxe Edition

Rick Ross makes Maybach music.

How do I know this? Because he repeats it on almost every song on this album.

What is Maybach music, you ask?

At first I thought he was talking about the overpriced automobile, but it turns out it’s the name of his record label.

After relasing debut album Port of Miami in 2006, the artist known by his mother as William Leonard Roberts II went on to feud with fellow rapper 50 Cent, get arrested on firearm and drug charges, and generally build a reputation as one hard ass motherf**cker.

Despite having taken his stage name from famous drug dealer Freeway Rick Ross, it was revealed in 2008 that Ross had spent some time behind bars — but as a correctional officer rather than a convict.

Remarkably, this piece of information didn’t completely derail his career and Ross went on to release Deeper Than Rap in 2009 and Teflon Don the following year.

Like many rappers, Rick Ross is at his best when collaborating.

Early albums featured tracks with R. Kelly, T-Pain and the ubiquitous Kanye West, who clearly feels that his creative genius needs to be spread as far and wide as possible. Mastermind continues the trend, with contributions from a huge roster of artists including Kanye, Young Jeezy, Jay Z, Diddy, Lil Wayne, The Weeknd and Big Sean.

If you’re a fan of any of the aforementioned guest stars and can tolerate frequent use of ‘the N word’ you will probably like Mastermind. If you don’t care for Hip Hop and/or Rap, I humbly suggest you look elsewhere. Like right below, maybe…

Best tracks: In Vein, BLK & Wht, Sanctified

Sample lyric: ‘Is it truth or it’s fiction, is Hova atheist? I never fuck with true religion.’ (The Devil is a Lie)

Verdict: 5/10 — while Ross no doubt has talent, he’s not in the league of Jay Z or Eminem. 

Ch-check it out…

Christopher Coleman Collective: Christopher Coleman Collective

Growing up in Glenorchy, one of the rougher suburbs of Hobart, Christopher Coleman found refuge in music. Inspired by his brother, sister and father who all wrote songs, young Christopher gave up the trombone and picked up a guitar.

In college, he formed a band called Hannah and did the touring band thing, spending months in the back of a van playing to handfuls of people in crappy bars and earning next-to-no money. When this project broke down Coleman formed The Beggars and the Buskers, forgoing the crappy bars in favour of street corners. Unfortunately, the payday stayed the same.

Fortunately, Chris didn’t let the challenges of touring get him down, instead focusing on producing the best music that he could with whoever happened to be around.

This approach led to the Christopher Coleman Collective, a bunch of songs written by Chris and performed with a ragtag bunch of musicians including his family and members of The Beggars and the Buskers.

Coleman’s unmistakable Australian twang sets him apart from the crowd and his honest songwriting approach recalls Paul Kelly at his best. It is somewhat remarkable that an artist of his tender years (Coleman is 25) can display the range and versatility evident on this album; there is an enormous amount of potential here.

If you’re a fan of Australian singer/songwriters, I strongly recommend you pick up Christopher Coleman Collective. Hipsters will be able to tell their friends that they liked him before he was popular and everyone else will be able to enjoy some excellent tunes.

Best tracks: Dandelion Flower, Sailor’s Love Song, Mr Smooth, Five Bananas For The Crown

Sample lyric: ‘I joined an army somewhere in the Middle East, and I now direct the orders but I haven’t called one fucking shot.’ (Dandelion Flower)

Verdict: 9/10 — the best debut album I’ve heard in the last 10 years.

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